As I mentioned earlier, today is the 101st anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. I’m also recommending Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David Von Drehle.
Until September 11, 2001, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire was the worst workplace disaster in the history of New York City. Almost 150 women died in a matter of minutes while crowds outside watched. Teenage girls threw themselves out of windows knowing they were too high up for the nets to catch them because they didn’t want to burn to death.
It was a pivotal moment for the labor movement. Dozens of safety regulations were adopted in New York City and other industrial hubs following the disaster.
Several comments on my earlier post noted that the building now belongs to NYU, but NYU students also played a role in helping workers escape the fire. NYU law students were able to help some of the lucky few who made it to the roof cross over into safety.
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America is one of the non-fiction books I recommend to people who don’t generally like non-fiction. After the stage is set describing the conditions of the factory and the situation of the factory workers, the book is pretty fast paced, describing how split second decisions led to life and death outcomes. It isn’t as in depth a look at organized labor as it could be, but Triangle: The Fire That Changed America is compelling reading, particularly if you’re interested in the labor movement, the history of New York City, or Jewish and Italian immigration.